|Better living through plastic – but be choosy about your molecules.
Something needs to be said about those plastic kitchen containers we all use.
Back in the sixties, when “better living through chemistry” was all the rage, officials approved bisphenol-A (BPA) for use in manufacturing.
There was much rejoicing among makers of plastic items, because BPA is great for hardening translucent plastic and it’s relatively cheap.
Cut to 50 years later. BPA is in the headlines worldwide because it’s now been linked with weird hormonal trends like early-onset puberty. I say “linked” because the human data is still being studied. But if you were a female lab mouse, you would have gotten your period way earlier than the other girls.
Leach a conclusion
The BPA molecule is like a promiscuous teenager: it’s not loyal and will dissolve its bonds when it encounters heat from nearby sources. And if there’s food in contact with the heated surface of BPA-enhanced plastic, then BPA is migrating straight into your lunch.
Oh, and there’s another factor that cuts BPA loose – exposure to acid and alkali in food. So if you’re heating up anything acidic (chili, tomato sauce) or anything alkaline (vegetables) in a BPA plastic container, you’re probably ingesting it.
And that could be why a recent Statistics Canada report warned that BPA is likely to be present in the urine of 91% of Canadians.
BPA is a synthetic female hormone, so it clings to estrogen receptors and produces estrogen-like changes (Here’s another possible link: breast development in young girls is now two years earlier than it was 40 years ago; premature breast development is, in turn, linked to increased risk of breast cancer).
BPA also appears to suppress the development of male sex organs and may lead to cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
Ready to toss your BPA plastic containers? I hope so.
But identifying them can be tricky because companies don’t have to disclose whether their products contain BPA. Some companies have inaccurately claimed their products are BPA-free (e.g. SIGG and Gaiam water bottles a couple of years ago – but the ensuing scandal was ultimately a great thing because manufacturers are now WAY more precise about their claims.)
Start by looking at your existing stash of plastic containers. (HINT: If they’re so old that they’re not even stamped with those little recycling symbols, consider upgrading).
• If they bear the recycling symbol 7, they contain BPA.
• Items with the 3 and 6 symbol may or may not contain BPA, but they do contain other nasties, such as phthalates (petrochemical derivatives that are also believed to be endocrine disruptors).
• Items with the symbols 1, 2, 4 and 5 are considered “safe” plastics.
Because industry groups are lobbying for the status quo on BPA use, it will probably take officials and lawmakers years before they change BPA policy (even though Canada has now declared BPA a toxic substance).
In the meantime, you can ensure you’re using the safest plastic food storage containers available by looking for a BPA-free stamp on the bottom of the container.
I found a new line of Premier containers from Rubbermaid that have the BPA-free stamp, so that’s what we’re using now. And the Premier lids snap together and “nest,” which dramatically reduces clutter avalanches.
Rubbermaid is also, as far as I can tell, the only manufacturer that has ever figured out how to make a really good, tight-fitting lid that never shrinks or distorts in the dishwasher.
A 12-piece set of Rubbermaid Premier costs about $20 and is available at your local hardware store and some grocery stores. Well worth it to un-disrupt your endocrine system, wouldn’t you say?
Mag Ruffman appears weekdays on Real Life on CTS. Visit her online at ToolGirl.com.